Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) causes reproductive hormonal imbalances that affect up to 15% of women of childbearing age in the United States. While it’s frequently talked about as a leading cause of irregular periods and female infertility, PCOS can also have far-reaching effects on your appearance and overall health.
PCOS is considered a syndrome, not a disease, because it gives rise to a recognizable group of symptoms and effects — but researchers are still working to identify its underlying cause.
This September, in recognition of PCOS Awareness Month, our seasoned team of women’s wellness experts at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology in Amarillo, Texas, wants you to know that when it comes to managing PCOS, preserving fertility, and protecting your health, a few key lifestyle changes can often make a world of difference.
Experts believe that PCOS develops when chronic, low-grade inflammation causes your ovaries to make and release more androgens (i.e., testosterone) than normal. Having high levels of male hormones in your system creates a fundamental imbalance that can have far-reaching effects on your body, causing:
Chronically high androgen levels can also take a major toll on your health. Women with PCOS are more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a collection of co-occurring conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance) that elevate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
For women with PCOS, excess androgens are most intensely associated with infertility, the appearance of male physical qualities like excess chin and upper lip hair, easy weight gain, and insulin resistance — or the precursor stage of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Luckily, three beneficial lifestyle changes can help you control PCOS and minimize its effects. As part of a comprehensive PCOS management plan, we recommend that you:
PCOS is a vicious cycle: Just as chronic inflammation can trigger excess androgen levels, so can insulin resistance. Likewise, insulin resistance can prompt your ovaries to increase their output of androgens. This cycle effectively intensifies PCOS symptoms.
It also leads to weight management problems. How? Insulin resistance occurs when your pancreas releases more and more insulin in response to high blood sugar levels, causing your body cells to become resistant to the insulin itself.
When this happens, you have high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels. Insulin doesn’t just help your body cells use blood glucose for energy; insulin is also a fat-storage hormone that promotes easy fat accumulation, especially in your abdomen.
If you’re overweight — as up to 80% of women with PCOS are — shedding excess pounds is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to improve insulin resistance, reduce high androgen levels, and minimize PCOS symptoms. Losing just 5-10% of your total body weight is often all it takes to gain these important health benefits.
Given that low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance are two prime root physiological imbalances of most (if not all) PCOS cases, it’s vital to understand how poor dietary choices can contribute to the condition — and how healthy dietary choices can improve it.
Simply put, a diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and processed foods is the most common contributor to insulin resistance and severe PCOS symptoms.
Luckily, switching to a wholesome eating pattern centered on fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds — along with heart-healthy unsaturated fats and lean proteins — can go a long way in helping you reverse insulin resistance, reduce PCOS symptoms, and take control of your health from the ground up.
An added bonus? Healthy eating patterns are an essential component of effective weight loss and successful long-term weight management, a foundational lifestyle recommendation for all women with PCOS.
You know that daily exercise can help you lose weight and get fit. But did you know that physical activity also improves the way your body uses insulin, helping you process blood sugar more effectively? This can have a cascade effect across your body systems, fostering normalized ovary function, decreased androgen levels, and better PCOS management.
Once you’ve been cleared for exercise, aim to get 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days. You can break your workouts into multiple mini-sessions (taking three or four brisk 15-minute walks a day, for example), or work up to longer exercise sessions gradually, as your fitness level improves.
Walking, swimming, biking, yoga, and dance are excellent activity choices that help you get your body moving with minimal effort.
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with PCOS or you’ve been living with its effects for years, our expert team can help. To learn more or schedule a visit at Panhandle Obstetrics and Gynecology, call 806-359-5468 today.